Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“This Is Heaven: Green Eyes, Part II” by Michael Ampersant— The Last Happy Ending

Ampersant, Michael. “This Is Heaven: Green Eyes, Part II”, Lustspiel Books, 2017.

The Last Happy Ending

Amos Lassen

I have remarked several times that the sign of good literature is that which makes me think and I have been doing a of thinking about Michael Ampersant’s wonderful new novel, “This is Heaven”. This is especially surprising in that this is not the kind of book that I usually choose to read but I am a sucker for someone who writes me a nice letter and asks me to review his work. Just from what writer Michael Ampersant wrote to me about his book generated interest on my part even though I am not into fantasy stories or science fiction. I got the idea that there was going to be so much more and indeed there was.

The novel is set in Georgia in the fictional town of Georgia Beach where we meet John and Alex who have somehow been able to hijack the summer “Vampire Festival” that is to take place at the resort. They were able to do so even with those adverse to their doing so. Before we know it, the characters (and the readers) are involved in actions that are, in fact, a satirical look of sex, crime, politics, and culture in all of their manifestations. Suddenly a billionaire is found dead in a darkroom and a college professor announces the coming of the end of days on the upcoming Thursday.

As Georgia Beach prepares for The Vampire Festival, John and Alex hijack it causing many to be quite angry and these include “Alpha males, delicate souls, and the Undead”. Then billionaire dies a suspicious darkroom death and a college professor predicts the coming of Armageddon on the coming Thursday.

I must admit that I have already had more than my fill of novels predicting the end of time and vampires. Novels like this tend to appear in cycles and it seems that vampires have become a staple in gay literature. I became apprehensive with where this story was going but something said to me to keep reading and I am glad that I did as many of my favorite historical and literary figures make an appearance here— Shakespeare, Albert Camus, Enid Blyton, Mark Twain, and many other writers appear in cameos. The satire becomes quite strong while we move forward and the characters interact with each other. I surprisingly realized that I was totally pulled into the novel.

However, I am at a loss for words as to how to review this. Any more of a plot summary could ruin the read for others. I have to certainly credit writer Ampersant who managed to do the almost impossible by causing me to continue reading a novel about vampires when I had already said that I have already read too many novels about the dark creatures. His wit is wonderful and there were times that I could see him in my mind as he sits at his computer writing this with a wry smile on his face. His prose is gorgeous and his characters are fascinating. For those two reasons alone, you should want to read, “This is Heaven”.

“#gods” by Matthew Gallaway— Another Look

Gallaway, Matthew. “#gods”, Fiction Advocate, 2017.

Another Look

Amos Lassen

When I posted my first review of Matthew Gallaway’s “#gods”, I said that I would post another review later once everything sunk it. It is probably once of the most unusual novels I have ever read which meant that I needed time to really think about it. Here are some of my thoughts. Gallaway throws a lot at us. He manages to use several themes— love, music, sexuality, death and resurrection and the nature of our existence.

The novel opens with a murder that seems to be a ritual killing since the body is found in an abandoned building, charred black and surrounded by flowers and candles. At this point, we think that this is going to be a detective novel but soon realize that it is so much more. We are taken on a journey through time with Gus, a New York City homicide detective who is charged with investigating the murder. As he does, he has flashbacks to when he was a child. He remembers seeing Helen, his sister, being abducted by a something with skin that glowed that he thinks of as a god. Gus meets Cecil and the two have sex.

We then move from Gus to Cecil and read about his growing up in the Midwest, being abused when he was a teen by his hockey coach and then learning how to deal with his homosexuality and then running away to New York where he found others like himself.

Just as we abruptly jumped into Cecil’s life, we leave it and come forward to the present when we meet three corporate office workers who have been technically laid off but who continue to go to work every day and still get paid for it. These three decide to start a new religion and they write a text which they dedicate to a former coworker named Gloria who is like a god to them since she was brave enough to quit her job and then do what ever fir her passion.

In the last part of the novel, we get a retelling of Greek myth with the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Here we see that the Greek gods did not die like others but instead left this world behind them. There is a thread that ties the various parts together and that is that the gods are considering a return to earth and that there is something human about them. However, trying to understand how all this comes together is work that takes the reader away from enjoying the beautiful prose that is here. I recommend that one allow him/herself to be carried away by the language and not by the plot. I am sure that this is the reason that I am having so much trouble summarizing it.

Sexuality here I simply that, just here and really carries little if any importance regarding the characters. Sexuality and sexual politics have no importance when looking at the novel as a whole and this is where writer Matthew Gallaway shines.

The characters are looking for something to believe in but something that is not really a religion and we must understand that faith is not necessarily a word that is tied to organized religion. This faith is that

sense of belonging to a greater whole but not in the realm of traditional Western religion. The sense of belonging is in every aspect of our lives and is something that we need to make space and time for in their lives.

Being the other often comes with a feeling of shame while in this novel, it becomes a source of strength. I believe that is that sense of strength that propels the characters and the plot forward. I could keep going but I do not want spoil the read for anyone. I am quite sure that in another couple of months I will have some more to say and that to me is the sign of good literature— when you continue to enjoy a book even after you have read the last word and closed the covers.

“They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera— A Day in the Life

Silvera, Adam. “They Both Die at the End”, Harper Teen, 2017.

A Day in the Life

Amos Lassen

Just after midnight on September 5, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to tell them that they’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus have never met and know nothing of each other but they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. This is so easy in this modern age of technology because there is an App called “Last Friend” and it brings Rufus and Mateo together for a great adventure that is to be their last. They each to live an entire lifetime in one day. This then becomes a story of friendship, love and loss.

I love the idea for the book in that it makes us think about what we would want to do if we know that the day was the last one we would ever have. Every moment suddenly becomes very important. Rufus and Mateo speak openly and honestly about what fate has brought them and how angry they are at the unfairness of life that has brought them to this point. They have an intense discussion about what it means to be alive, something that never thought about before and only do so now because their mortality is about to take them away.

Author Adam Silvera uses young queers to talk about mortality, diversity and disability and many of us are very surprised at what they have to say (and say it with eloquence). We are reminded that there is no life without death and, in fact, that death is a fact of life. There is also no love without loss and that in ne day, there is the possibility of change.

“London Skin and Bones: The Finsbury Park Stories” by Ian Young— London in the 80s

Young, Ian. “London Skin and Bones: The Finsbury Park Stories”, Squares and Rebels, 2017.

London in the 80s

Amos Lassen

The world is so different today than it was 20 or thirty years ago and I realize that on every page of Ian Young’s collection of stories about London in the early 8Os. This is one of those books that makes you saw “wow” all the way through. Not only are the stories fascinating but the prose is gorgeous. Young takes us to Finsbury Park, a neighborhood where the residents included “fascinating habitués long gone—gay skinheads, anarchist poets, and stoned stamp collectors—resisting the dark forces of a Thatcherite government.” It is the diversity of the people who live there that make this such a fascinating place and the fact that the residents are all friends shows that getting along is very simple— all we have to do is want to get along. Aside from the human characters in these stories, there is also the character of the place itself. The friends that we meet here are an unlikely group and we see skinheads and gay working class men share friendships and there is a real sense of community at Finsbury Park. What glues these people together is friendship, as unlikely as it may be.

This is a book about “Lad Culture” (and thanks to Jack Fritscher for that title) that is made up of stories that come together to form a whole. But it is important to remember that this is a book about a certain place and time and even though what we read here could happen anywhere, it happened there first. The worth of a city is based upon the worth of its inhabitants. We surely see that are characters weave in and out of the stories and I love having had the chance to meet them. While each is extraordinary in his/her own way, they are all citizens of an ordinary world.

We get quite a different look at gay life here manly because we see it in an unlikely place, a neighborhood so diversely populated where being a man is what its all about. Our gay people here are radical and radically political and I feel as if I already know each and every character (and I am so glad that I do). Rather than look at each story individually I am going to give the collection five stars and let you discover it for yourselves.

“In HIs Eyes” by Larry Benjamin— Four Men

Benjamin, Larry. “In His Eyes”, Beaten Track, 2017.

Four  Men

Amos Lassen

It does not happen often that you pick up a book whose prose is so beautiful and mesmerizing that you have tears in your eyes. Be prepared for that to happen with Larry Benjamin’s “In His Eyes” which aside from the glorious writing there is a very beautiful story. We meet four guys and read their stories in 139 vignettes, each about a single event. Our guys meet when they are in college and from there they move forward some twenty years and find their ways in the adult gay world. They are guided by a piece of advice that quite simply says,

 “When you boys fall in love, fall in love with his smile – because his smile will never age or change – and his eyes because in his eyes, you will always see the truth.”

Many have tried to write about gay life but few have succeeded in painting the picture of the reality that it is. One of the reasons for that is the fact that we really do not want to share it since it is ours exclusively. Those of you who are old enough to remember the scandal that Larry Kramer brought about with his roman a clef, “Faggots’, a book that parodies our lives while at the same time let people see how many were living and acting back then. Many were outraged that Kramer dared to let straight society see how we lived our lives (although I have my doubts about how many straight people actually would have considered reading it). Even Andrew Holleran in “His Dancer From the Dance” was ostracized for writing about what goes in gay bars. But those two books are from the 70s and so much has changed. We learned from that experience that not every writer can give an actual picture of gay life and those who try must be very careful about what they write.

Larry Benjamin has succeeded in doing so by being playful and using a bit of imagination. He never ignores the reality that we live in a world that has been hostile and is just now beginning to deal with acceptance. The first chapter shows us this by giving us a discussion on throwing a gay son out of the family and then moving on to wondering if someone can tell that someone else is gay just be looking at him.

We are taken on quite a journey and we are with the guys when they mature and fall in love, struggle to maintain relationships, suffer disappointments and have broken dreams all the while searching for internal and external acceptance. I remember a gorgeous poem that states, “love doesn’t die, people do” and we certainly see here that after we think love is gone, it is reborn in another time and place.

How could I not love a book that is about all of us. Micah, Skye, Reid and Calvin could be Paul, Henry, Michael and Clark—their names are not important because they are us. So there are four different points of view but then there are some of us who also have four different points of view in the same body and mind. Yet, it is easier to read about four different entities and as we do, we grow to love each one. As I read, I laughed, cried, went into myself, cursed and so on and we see about all else that love is undeniable.

I could say so much but I would rather you have the experience of this book yourself without me spoiling one word. Life is all about friendship and maturing and it is that much more difficult when one is part of a minority that is often marginalized. Knowing what love is certainly helps us to find our way as does friendship. I was totally taken into this book and know that I will reread it and reread it. I believe most of you will do the same.

“Private Waterloos”— Finding Purpose

Morton, Shane. “Private Waterloos”; ADS, 2017.

Finding  Purpose

Amos Lassen

I have been sitting on my copy of Shane Morton’s “Private Waterloos” for over a month trying to decide how to review it. Perhaps because so much of what I red here is relevant to my own life is why I cannot seem to get the right words together. Therefore this review might be written with the “wrong words”. Regardless of the kinds of words I might use, it seemed to me that every word in this book was hand chosen to tell the story of Zac that we get here.

Zac was a straight A student, class president and considered to be the most likely to succeed. However, things did not work out that way and when he was 25, he was already a college drop out and back home. He had once been his town’s “golden boy” who could do no wrong and who has moved back home with his parents and his older sister who is at odds with everything he says or does. He is, to put it simply, a lost guy.

This is a story about the South and having been raised in New Orleans, I can vouch for how true it reads (even though I was never a “golden boy” but rather a “pink sheep”). We can only wonder if what happened to Zac was the result of having peaked too soon or the reaction to the hopes that others had placed on him.

The solace he now finds comes from old friends and acquaintances as well as from new friends and Zac’s story is about his own personal Waterloo and of finding his purpose, lasting love, and acceptance from his tragic past. (Aha, you say!!! What tragic past are you speaking of?). As for that tragedy, I am not the one to share that and ruin your read. Aside from the plot that pulls us in on the first page, Shane Morton has created characters that are real, relevant and reminiscent of characters in our own lives. As for the literary genre that this fits into is for you to decide.

I can’t quite think of this as just a read because for me it was a total experience. Be sure to plan your day before you begin to read, however, because once you start you will have a difficult time finding how to stop. Do not be surprised if you find a bit of Zac in yourself. I believe there is a bit of him in everyone. (And yes, I know that I did summarize the plot and that is not because I can’t— it is because it do not want to).

“A Place Called Winter” by Gale Patrick— The Shock of Discovery

Gale, Patrick. “A Place Called Winter”, Grand Central, 2016.

The Shock of Discovery

Amos Lassen

Harry Cane has followed convention at every step. He comes from a family of privilege but he lives a muted life and even when he becomes involved in an illicit, dangerous affair with another man and the only thing that worries him is the shock of discovery and the threat of arrest that costs him everything. He is forced to leave his wife and child and immigrates to the prairies of Canada which are beginning the colonization process.

Harry ends up in a place called Winter which is remote and far away in lifestyle from the kind of life that he maintained in Edwardian England. It is there that the real Harry comes out and he finds his inner strength and capacity for love while dealing with

the threat of war, madness and an evil man. Writer Patrick Gale shares Harry’s journey of self-discovery that is brutal. This is a novel of secrets, sexuality and, ultimately, of great love. I understand that the story is loosely based on real events.

Harry has to go changes in life and forge a new life on the Canadian frontier. He begins by becoming friendly with a brother and sister on a section of land and Harry came to love Paul, the brother.

Writer Gale builds his main character, Harry, through the exploration of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the story moves slowly at first, the pace picks up as we move forward as we get an in-depth look at the human condition.

Harry Cane held no malice and bitterness despite the emotional jolts he suffered. He was, quite simply, a victim of his time, certain in his belief that he deserved whatever hardship and misery came his way.

Bias and ethnicity and two of the themes of the novel and as we read, it is hard not to be sympathetic to Harry.

 

“The Sidekicks” by Will Kostakis— Four Guys

Kostakis, Will. “The Sidekicks”, Harlequin Teen, 2017.

Four Guys

Amos Lassen

Ryan, Harley and Miles are very different people—the swimmer, the rebel and the nerd and the only thing that they’ve ever had in common is Isaac, their shared best friend. 

When Isaac dies unexpectedly, the three boys have to come to terms with their grief and the impact Isaac had on each of their lives. In his absence, Ryan, Harley and Miles discover things about one another they never saw before, and realize there may be more tying them together than just Isaac. 

The story is told in three parts and it is a look at loss, grief, self-discovery and the connections that tie us all together. Each of the three novellas is from the perspective of a different friend of Isaac. They fill in the gaps in each other’s story and provide insight into each character’s grieving process and personality. While the story deals with a very serious topic, there is just enough wit and dark humor. We learn that Isaac died as a result of substance abuse indirectly and he left behind issues facing each of the three friends. What they don’t realize is that they need each other to fill in the blanks of their friendship to properly move on from this tragedy.

Although we don’t get to know Isaac much, we know that he was able to connect and touch each one of them even though they are all vastly different from each other. Writer Will Kostakis created three very different characters with separate personalities. Through them we begin to think about love and loss.

 

“Vanitas” by Joseph Olshan— Reconciling Life

Olshan, Joseph. “Vanitas”, Simon and Schuster, 2013.

Reconciling Life

Amos Lassen

In my efforts to make my review site a comprehensive place where the very best of LGBT literature can be found, I often go back in time to look for titles that I have not reviewed so that they can be included. I read Joseph Olshan’s “Vanitas” when it was first published but for whatever reason I did not review it then.

Sam Solomon finds himself transfixed by an erotic drawing that hangs in the apartment of a dying art dealer, Elliot Garland and is soon dealing with confusion and desire. Garland has AIDS and has hired Sam to write his memoirs but manages to withhold crucial information about his life. Sam suspects, however, that the drawing, “Vanitas”, is the relic of a dramatic, and secret, history that could provide answers to the questions that Garland has refused to address.

Author Olshan explores the intersections between the disparate worlds of art and art restoration, publishing, and urban relationships and all of these are being taken over by the AIDS epidemic. As Sam looks at romance, and mystery, he becomes part of a culture in which individual’s connections tenuously as the world around them is shot to pieces. He finds himself face to face with a familiar existential dilemma — the desire to raise a child despite society’s condemnation of nontraditional families.

“Vanitas” is the story of the lonely, painful search for happiness in unconventional choices. Even though we know that Garland is dying from AIDS, the word is not mentioned and remains an unacknowledged motivator for Sam. While interviewing Garland in order to ghostwrite his autobiography, he sees a stunning, highly sexual drawing of a near-naked young man on a bed cradling a skull. This startles Sam and sets him off on a journey to not only discover the artist and subject, but into his own life to resolve his conflicting emotional needs: to find what he considers to be the security of heterosexual family life and yet pursue emotional and sexual relationships with men.

Olshan understands here how sadness, fear, and even death are the most common shapers of important emotional and erotic experiences and he fills his novel is hope and love, and maintains that these life-affirming emotions are only achieved after “facing the deepest horrors, fears, and terrors of living in the world”.

Using the pretext of book research, Garland sends Sam to London to meet Bobby LaCour, Garland’s lost lover, and take the erotic “Vanitas” drawing to him; the same drawing that Sam loved when he saw it hanging in Garland’s apartment. Even as Sam and Bobby fall in love, Sam lives with his ex-girlfriend and is dating a married man.

At first, we think that Olshan is taking us on a mundane journey through the lives of 4 people and a painting. But as the novel moves forward, we sense that we are moving toward quite an ending after using the Vanitas to connects three different lives. Sam is bi-sexual who was in love with a woman for a time and with whom he wishes he had a child with as he struggles with the fact that she had a child with someone else; Garland, a dying and very manipulative art dealer’ ex-lover Bobby and man who posed for the painting. As we read, we remember how AIDS has changed all our lives and how it continues “to raise its specter in seemingly coincidental ways”.

 

“When Heaven Strikes” by F.E. Feeley, Jr.— Will Love Survive

Feeley, Jr. F. E. ”When Heaven Strikes”, Independently Published 2017.

Will Love Survive?

Amos Lassen

Artist Ted Armstrong lives a solitary and eccentric life and not necessarily because he wants to do so. He is the survivor of child abuse disguised as religion and because of what he went through, he has cut himself off from the world. Then Ted meets Anderson Taylor, a cardiac surgeon whose passion for his work is all consuming. He fears he’ll never find a partner. Things happen fast, but both men know what they feel is right.

We meet Anderson while at the beach with his family as a child at the beginning of a tornado. At the same time, Ted runs away from home while still a child to survive the Christian fervor of his devout parents. The two men are drawn together by their common loneliness. The need to connect allows them to see to the possibility their being together. There is always a challenge of in building a relationship, choosing to meet their needs and they are determined to do just that.

It is through Anderson’s grandmother that the two men meet. She commissions Ted to paint a portrait of her garden in Indianola, Iowa, outside of Des Moines. The two men and in their late thirties and immediately are attracted to each needs to deal with the emotional hurts of his past and be willing to risk the self-imposed, if comfortable, isolation of their lives.

There is plenty of drama in this story, but not from the developing relationship between Ted and Anderson who know to take it slow at the beginning. Even though Ted and Anderson are the two romantic protagonists in this story, there are other characters. Josiah and his preacher father Jeff play only a small but pivotal part in the first half of the story but their story becomes important in the second half.

Jeff, even with all of his religiosity lives in his own private hell, and he has also created a hell for his wife and sons. While “When Heaven Strikes” is a beautiful love story, it is so much more than that. It’s a story about faith, family and loyalty and it is beautifully written.